Side gig for council member Mesirow addresses mental health among government workers, electeds |

Side gig for council member Mesirow addresses mental health among government workers, electeds

Incumbent City Councilman Skippy Mesirow talks to attendees after his Squirm Night appearance. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Single-term Aspen City Council member Skippy Mesirow’s organization to address mental health and wellness struggles for local government officials is gaining traction across the state as officials prioritize mental health. 

The Elected Leaders Collective (ELC) offers programs like one-on-one coaching, a cohort group known as The Pride, team workshops, and retreats. 

Content of each program varies, Mesirow said. Participants fill out surveys or interview with the collective at the beginning of their program to assess needs, but all aim to address challenges that come with being an elected official, government staffer, or non-profit worker, he said. 

The site reads: “Our mission is to heal our politics. We do this from the inside out, one human at a time.”

Like many job sectors, local government is dealing with a turnover and burnout crisis. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of separation for state and local jobs was 20.3% in 2021.

For ELC, “healing politics” means fostering resiliency in the participants. The first iteration of “The Pride” is nine months into their program, and Mesirow said that the feedback he’s heard from the eight participants at the six-month mark is encouraging.

“(They) experienced more joy in their work, better relationships in their work, better ability to deal with the incoming threat or anger or criticism from the public or others,” he said. “So we’re seeing strong work, but it’s still very early. Our sample size is still very small. And we do want to build in additional rigor into that.”

Pricing for the programs is fluid, Mesirow said. 

“The cohort is $149 per month per person, or $1,499 per year,” he said. “Workshops are $999 in general. And one-to-one coaching is a much higher ticket item, and then retreats (vary).”

Mesirow said he conceptualized the idea during COVID-19 lockdowns, when he spent most of his time isolated in his studio apartment in Aspen. 

His own mental-health practice is regimented. It involves setting intentions, tracking activity and goals, regular exercise and meditation, and more. Overcoming addiction and disordered eating in childhood put him on the path to introspection and self care, he said. 

Six months ago, Mesirow brought on Jamie Butemeyer to the ELC team. She is a transformational mastery coach and movement facilitator. She is also Mesirow’s partner. 

Mesirow himself is still in the process of gaining coaching certification, which is why Butemeyer is the primary coach through ELC.

And although he has only served one four-year term as an elected official and is up for re-election, he said that his nearly 15-year career in and around politics qualifies him to speak on elected officials and mental health.

Participation growing

At the October 2022 MountainTowns 2030 summit in Breckenridge, which hosted regional government officials to discuss climate change and other problems, ELC clinched a presentation slot.

Mesirow presented to a room of government officials the importance of supporting the mental health of elected officials, staff, and all affiliated with governmental bodies.

It caught the attention of the town of Eagle. 

On March 13, seven elected officials and 13 staff members from Eagle will host ELC for an extended morning workshop, followed by an afternoon of budget planning.

Eagle Town Manager Larry Pardee said he and the staff are using it as a launch point for mental-health prioritization. 

“In light of what happened after COVID in the incredible increase in mental illness in America, it was really important that we get this this training learn a little more and become a little more cognizant of what it means (to prioritize) mental health and awareness,” Pardee said. “Hopefully, strategies that they’ll outline for us, so that we can work independently and/or go seek help from professionals to guide us during these stressful times.”

Pardee said he has seen innumerable dedicated staff members and electeds leave public work due to burnout and hostility from the public, and he hopes the workshop will set his staff on the right path. 

For the half-day workshop, the town will pay $2,499 from the professional training and development funds to ELC, he said.

In January, ELC provided a free workshop to the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, as Mesirow is affiliated with the organization, and it was determined that any payment received would be inappropriate. 

The council’s executive director, Jon Stavney, said he hears from members all across the region that hostility and threats of violence weigh on government workers. 

“Their main thing … is an issue of heightened stress and mental-health challenges with, I would say, a lack of civility,” he said. “Going out in the public realm, that’s hard on public officials, and (Mesirow’s) a public official, so he kind of takes this on.”

To him, Mesirow and Butemeyer’s credentials as elected leaders and coaches, not licensed mental-health professionals, do not preclude them from offering helpful material. 

“The term that he uses that I like — it’s a good one — is that we’re trying to deal with (mental-health issues) upstream,” he said. “The upstream issue with mental health is basically self-care.”

ELC will host its first retreat at the Marble Lodge in Marble at the end of March, with participants attending from Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. Mesirow said that as this is the organization’s first retreat, they are only charging for the cost of food and lodging, not programming.

“I want to be able to serve people at every end of the economic spectrum, whether they are a governor and a billionaire, or whether they are a single mom, city council person working three jobs,” he said. “They should all have access; there should not be a price that precludes anybody from healing.”